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Men and Chicken review: truly weird but not especially wonderful
October 8, 2015
For the first half hour of Anders Thomas Jensen’s Men and Chicken, I was relaxing into the idea that what we had on our hands was Step Brothers Danish-style: a slapstick exploration of family discord and resolution with an aesthetic less apple-pie and more Grimms’ Fairy Tales.
We meet two cleft-lipped brothers, Elias and Gabriel, just as their father dies. His legacy to them is an engagingly shot home video in which he reveals the truth of their origins: they were adopted from the same father but have different mothers who are both dead. So begins their quest to find their biological father, madcap scientist Evelio Thanatos, who lives and works in Ork, a remote island in the south with a population of forty-two.
Arriving on the island, they find the dilapidated old sanatorium where Evelio lives (a cross between Miss Haversham’s gaff and a farmyard). But protecting their father from intruders are three long-lost half-siblings who have a love of slapstick violence involving planks of wood and taxidermied beasts. To say these guys are a screw loose is an understatement, but the family cleft-lip is present in all and gradually familial bonds are created. By which time we’ve woken up to find ourselves in a bizarre fairytale that’s a cross between Frankenstein, Dumb and Dumber and Dolly the Sheep. It’s not a happy transition.
The point at which the film starts delving into the nature of what Evelio has been up to all these years is also the moment the development of character and the family story comes to something of a halt. The half-brothers are all crackers and very entertaining, but halfway through the film begins to drag. Not even a great performance from Mads Mikkelsen (wildly different to his Hannibal persona) as Elias, an inveterate and very likeable wanker of the first order (both literally and metaphorically), can lift the story from its bizarre malaise.
Philosophical musings, rationalist readings of the Bible, strange goings on with chickens and other animals and the mystery surrounding what their mad scientist father has been up to all these years build into one of the weirdest musings on the nature of life I’ve ever seen.
But rather like the brothers’ jumbled-up DNA the story can’t decide which genre forms its true nature, and frankly it all gets a little messy. Truly weird but not especially wonderful.
Words by AC Goodall
Men and Chicken screens at the BFI London Film Festival on 8th, 10th and 18th October.